Tomorrow at dinner tables across the country, parents will lay out their turkeys and mashed potatoes, green bean casseroles and pumpkin pies. They’ll set the perfect family feast. The aroma itself will draw everyone to the table. And then, with mouths watering and anticipation high, everyone will sit and let the food get cold, so that the entire family can share what they are thankful for.
No one is really going to know what to say, so they’ll all regurgitate the same platitudes that come out every year, “I’m thankful for my friends and family,” or “I’m thankful for our health.” Sure, we’re all grateful to have loving relationships. We appreciate that we’re alive and eating a wonderful meal. None of it is a lie. But it’s very rarely a heart-felt expression of thanks and acknowledgement. For the kids, it’s awkward and embarrassing. For adults, it feels a little empty.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for gratitude and being thankful for life’s many gifts. I think it’s important to take time and show appreciation. I simply don’t agree that the perfect time for these expressions is one day a year, sitting around and wondering how long this performance will last before everyone can eat.
“What are you thankful for?” is one family tradition that can be wiped from the dinner table.
And actually, I have a few more suggestions of traditions to skip. Let’s start with this whole “Pilgrims and Indians” nonsense. Even in grade school, I had a hard time reconciling a holiday built around a fictional harvest dinner shared between two groups of people who were trying to kill each other. This revisionist version of American history really doesn’t need to be part of a national holiday. The fact is that the Native Americans suffered immensely at the hands of the settlers since the minute the Mayflower found the shore. Carving a turkey in their honor really isn’t going to change that.
Speaking of turkeys, maybe it’s time to stop decorating the entire month of November with their likeness. Let’s face it, turkeys might be the ugliest bird on the planet. Vultures have more style than turkeys and they eat dead things. No matter how we try to paint it, a gobbler is simply not an appealing vision. And who wants to be constantly confronted with the live appearance of something they’re eating. Would you have Bambi as a centerpiece while eating venison? We ask our children to make turkey pictures and turkey place mats and turkey hats. Then we try to feed them turkey and wonder why they won’t eat it.
Since I’m pretty much committing blasphemy in terms of American holiday tradition, I guess I can add one more. How about we let pumpkins stay attached to Halloween? Why make that big orange gourd try to last through two holidays? Sure, everyone serves pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. But I think it’s telling that the only way we can eat this particular squash is with a couple pounds of sugar, butter and whipped topping. It’s the least appetizing symbol of the harvest available. I’m willing to bet that we buy more pumpkins to cut up and decorate than we do to eat. Why not allow the pumpkin to specialize in its true talent? The thing is pretty. We shouldn’t try to make it tasty, too.
Thanksgiving is a day to gather with family, appreciate our blessings and honor the founding of our country. But I think that can happen without forcing everyone to stare at a beautiful dinner and pretend to enjoy sharing their personal thoughts, without decorating using an animal you’re about to consume and without forcing pumpkin into cuisine.